By Sunit Bezbaroowa September 2003The image of the pot-bellied Laughing Buddha has become ubiquitous in recent years. But whoever heard of an organisation that worships him as a deity, promises his incarnation on earth as a saviour, and promotes a ceremony to spread the message of love, peace and happiness?Miroku in Japanese, Maitreya Buddha in Sanskrit, who is also referred to as 'the God of revolution' and 'the God who will change the world'. Guess, who are we talking about? Yes, you guessed it right, we are talking about the familiar pot-bellied Laughing Buddha. Interestingly, the personage is worshipped as part of a 5,000 year-old tradition in a ceremony called the Kyudo ceremony, which originated in China. The tradition and the ceremony has come to India, courtesy a Japanese organisation named Dotoku-Kaikan. The Indian chapter with centers in Delhi and Bangalore has been active for the last nine years. Depending on word-of-mouth publicity so far, only now, with this feature, are they going public about their mission. With the Happy Buddha as our main deity, we are here to preach the message of peace and love through the ancient Kyudo ceremony, says Yoko Minagawa, head of the Maitreya Buddha Charitable Trust, which runs the Delhi centre of Dotoku-Kaikan. She is authorised to preside over the Kyudo ceremony as a priestess. The organisation has 27 centres scattered in different countries, with 20 branches in Japan itself. Kyudo in Japanese means search within. The legend of Kyudo ceremony dates back to 5,000 years, when Emperor Fukugi of China received a divine message to start it to spread the message of love, peace and happiness. Since then, there have been 64 masters in the lineage. It is said that out of these 64, India alone had had 28 masters in the tradition, one of them being the world-renowned Gautama the Buddha, founder of a major world religion. The Dotoku-Kaikan organisation believes that the Happy Buddha or Maitreya Buddha will emerge as the last incarnation of God to appear on earth, and he will redeem humanity from all evil and sufferings. (Shades of the yet-to-come Kalki avatar of the Hindus!). They relate the legend that the Laughing Buddha kept praying incessantly in his previous life and his prayers enabled him to strike up a good rapport with other higher beings and enlightened souls. He was finally empowered by the supreme God to ascend as the Saviour in the Kaliyuga. He was also promised help by the gods and masters in his work. It is believed that Happy Buddha will usher in a new world. To be a part of this new idyllic world, one should undergo the Kyudo ceremony, which assures salvation. Akemi Shuto, an active member of the group in Delhi, comments: Kyudo ceremony is not a religion. It spreads the message of searching towards the inner God instead of worshiping the outer God. At their centre in Delhi Shivalik neighbourhood, they have a Happy Buddha altar and a prayer room. Images and statues of the Laughing Buddha in all shapes and sizes greeted us as we climbed up the stairs to attend the Kyuodo ceremony. Dressed in spotless white clothes, our hosts Yoko Minagawa and Akemi Shuto warmly welcomed us in the prayer room. With lavish and solemn proceedings, a Kyudo ceremony resembles any Hindu ceremony. The entire ceremony lasted for not more than 20 minutes, punctuated by intonations of a number of prayers, performed in front of a big idol of the Laughing Buddha, his face resplendent in candlelight. Yoko Minagawa said we were fortunate enough to undergo this ceremony as not everybody gets a chance to attend it, and that we could now consider ourselves to be blessed by the Divine. Later our hosts explained to us the meaning and significance of the ceremony, which can take one closer to the Lord and Heaven, even the state of Senten-Daido, or the Absolute Truth, which has created heaven, earth, humans and all beings. Subhash Verma, Managing Director of a travel agency in Delhi, says: Since Kyudo ceremony worships Happy Buddha, this fascinated me and made me to go for it The Kyudo ceremony gained roots in Japan after it was first introduced in 1944 by a Chinese master. After he passed away, Oshima Senshi Zennin furthered the cause of Kyudo ceremony in Japan. The present guru of Dotoku-Kaikan, which propagates Kyudo ceremony, is Okubo Zennin. He is based at the organisation headquarters in Nagoya in Japan. According to Dotoku-Kaikan, Kyudo ceremony promises to be the easiest way to attain enlightenment with the grace of the Happy Buddha or Maitreya Buddha. Kyudo main motto is to cleanse an individual of his inner negativity and sins, and spread the message of love and tolerance towards one another. In India, around one lakh people are said to have undergone the Kyudo ceremony. People who have been initiated into Kyudo report attaining a state of calm and finding a positive change in their personality. Says Dr Yogesh Arora: After being initiated into Kyudo, I can find a sense of inner tranquillity. It has led me to self-realisation. We returned from the centre, with gifts of framed pictures of unusual looking Happy Buddha, feeling a sense of exhilaration after the Kyudo ceremony and the hospitality of the ever-smiling Yoko Minagawa and Akemi Shuto. Maybe it would take a while for us to realise our promised enlightenment, but we definitely enjoyed the experience and being part of a tradition that is so very ancient.
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